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Avoiding Those Nasty Potholes

Potholes

Why is a “pothole” called a “pothole?”

Well, turns out the term was originally used (as cited in 1826) to describe deep, cylindrical-shaped holes in glaciers and gravel beds. So, as a result, it made sense calling the holes that form in the road, which has a similar shape, a “pothole.”

February, March, and April are the months when potholes wreak havoc on your car. The consistent thawing and freezing – not to mention the water in the mix – is the perfect combination for creating these nasty street surprises.

If you live in an area that is currently thawing from the harsh winter, you’ll need to keep a vigilant eye when driving. So, as you hit the road here are tips to help reduce the impact and minimize the damage on your car.

How to avoid the potholes

Potholes can be avoided. The Michigan Department of Transportation advises you to do these three things to help avoid these little buggers.

  • Drive at a safe speed so you can avoid them – this will give you more time to react.
  • Make sure your car is in good condition – because well-conditioned cars that hit potholes have less impact.
  • Avoid the puddles because those can hide dangerous potholes.
  • Never swerve last second. Please, never swerve last second.

However, if you do hit a pothole, here’s what to do…

“I hit a pothole”

Say you’re driving through town and BOOM you hit a pothole. Your suspension buckles and something under your car starts to rattle. Now you need to head into the mechanic to get your car fixed. “Thanks, pothole,” you say to yourself.

What could you have done next time to lessen the impact?

The Michigan Department of Transportation suggests you don’t hit the brakes as you hit the pothole. This helps your car and wheels absorb the impact better. The more you resist by pressing the breaks, the more your car will resist.

In addition, try hitting the pothole straight on. Hitting it flush will lessen the angle that your wheels hit the pothole and will lessen the impact and damage on your car.

In conclusion, be safe on the roads this time of year, and always remember that being vigilant is the best way to avoid suddenly hitting a pothole and having to take your car to the mechanic.

Is Your Business PCI Compliant?

If you own a business that accepts credit cards, listen up. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to you.

Think about this, every time a customer swipes his/her card, they’re entrusting you with their personal information. They have absolute confidence that their information is safe and free of a hacker getting their hands on it. This is where PCI compliance comes in.

To uphold your end of this security relationship, PCI compliance is a standard that protects your customer’s digital cardholder data. To adhere to this standard, it’s encouraged to host your cardholder data securely with a PCI compliant hosting provider.

So, if your business DOES accept credit cards, there are 12 PCI compliant requirements that you should be aware of. Meeting these will help your business be secure.

Encrypt cardholder data across public networks
If you encrypted your credit card data a hacker without the proper cryptographic keys will not be able to read or use the information. Cryptographic keys change plain text into ciphertext. Ciphertext is unreadable without the proper cipher, the algorithm to read the text.

Install and maintain a firewall
You need two firewalls and one test procedure. You as a company must create your own firewall to protect your customer’s data, and a test procedure to consistently monitor their security. The hosting company where you store the data should have their own firewall, too.

Protect stored data
If you’re not a security company, and you store the credit card data yourself, you’re more vulnerable to a breach. If you don’t store the data yourself, the company you store it will most likely have more security standards.

Change the vendor-supplied password defaults
This goes without saying but change all vendor supplied passwords the moment you can. The fewer people who know your password the better.

Have secure applications
If your system finds new security holes, it should notify you. Having these alerts will help you stay on top of your system’s security.

Update your anti-virus software
This goes without saying, if you don’t have an anti-virus software, you need one. In addition, frequently updating the software will help strengthen your security wall making it harder to penetrate.

Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
If you abide by best practice standards you’re doing two things: 1. Individual IDs for each member with access, and 2. Make them update their password every 30 – days, with specific log-in times.

Protect cardholder data with lower “business need-to-know”
Limiting the number of personnel that has access to cardholder data will lessen the chances of a security breach.

Track and monitor all access to network resources
Implement a logging system that monitors who is looking at your data and when. So, if there is ever a breach, you’ll be able to look back at who was looking at it.

Have information security policy
This policy will document everything that you have in place for security. If anyone ever asks about what you’re doing to secure credit card information, you’ll have this policy to share.

Restrict physical access the servers
If you host your data on a PCI compliant server, make sure they’re protecting your data by limiting the number of people who physically have access to the server.

Frequently test your security
Again, it’s best practice to always monitor your systems. It’s better to test here and there than to miss a hole in your security for someone to breach.

Customer Spotlight: Nina’s Cookies

The sensation that you get when sinking your teeth into a sweet from Nina’s Cookies will make you understand the care and love that is baked into everything they make.

Nina's Cookies Nina's Cookies Nina's Cookies

The foundation of Nina’s Cookies was built on love. Antonina Ciarcia (Nina) married Angelo Mazza in her hometown of Canicattina Bagni, Italy in 1949. Later that year, they emigrated to the United States and settled in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today, their daughters Maryann (Mazza) Whitehead and Lucille Maza continue the traditions they learned in their mother’s kitchen. They continue to add the love and care to each baked good, which is why we urge you to surprise your loved ones with some brilliantly baked Italian sweets from Nina’s Cookies.

All cookies are made by hand and sourced with the finest ingredients. Each bite will take you back to Italy in the mid-1900’s.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, visit Nina’s Cookies at:

Location
Nina’s Cookies
541 Springfield Street
Feeding Hills, MA 01030

Phone
413-304-2075

Email
Info@NinasCookies.com

Store Hours 
Tuesday – Friday 9am – 5:30pm
Thursday 9am – 6pm
Saturday 9am – 2:30pm
Sunday & Monday Closed

 

Winter Driving Safety Tips

If you’ve lived in New England, you know how easy it is to become accustomed to winter weather and not think about the risk of winter driving. Therefore, if you’re planning on hitting the roads this winter (most likely all of you will say yes) here are some winter driving tips to keep you safe.

Safe Snow Driving

How to stock your vehicle

Even if you like keeping your car clear of clutter, having these essential items is critical for smart winter driving:

  • A bag of kitty litter or sand just in case your car get’s stuck. If it does, spread the sand or kitty litter under your tire to give it traction.
  • Regardless of the time of year, you should always have jumper cables, a flashlight, and some emergency markers in your trunk.
  • Store a blanket in your backseat. There is nothing better than surprising your loved ones with a blanket when they’re cold.
  • Purchase a pack of water bottles, some granola bars, and any necessary medicine you’ll need as you’re driving on those longer, more remote, trips.
  • Shovel, broom, scraper. Say that again, shovel, broom, scraper.

What to THINK about when driving in winter weather

  • Drive slowly. Let us repeat that. Drive slowly. Don’t be rushed and give yourself enough time to get to your destination 10 minutes early, even if you have to change a flat tire.
  • Remind yourself that it’s MUCH harder to control or stop your vehicle during winter condition. Even if those slick looking car commercials show the newest model ripping through snow piles, it’s not practical, nor realistic.
  • Test and learn about your antilock brake system. This system prevents your wheels from locking up during braking. You know that vibrating feeling in the brake pedal when you break on ice? Well, those are your antilock breaks. If you catch yourself sliding on ice, and you have antilock breaks, apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal. If you don’t have antilock breaks, you may need to pump your breaks if you feel your wheels starting to lock up.

Be friendly to those Snow Plows

  • Give the snow plows plenty of room! Snow plows tend to take wide turns, they stop often, they overlap lanes, and they exit the road frequently so give them their s.
  • The road in front of the snow plow is more dangerous than the road behind the snow plow. So stay behind the plows.

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Every winter, ice dams take their toll on houses all across America. They ruin roofs, walls, and can create a massive mess for homeowners. Understanding the components of ice dams will help you take the right steps for preventing them from happening.

How do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams form when snow or ice melts on your roof, drips to the edge of the roof, then refreezes. This results in having a thick ridge of ice along the edge of your roof near your gutters. Ice dams are also occasionally found near skylights and vents as well.

The issue with ice dams is that when these pretty looking icicles melt, instead of draining into your gutters, like they should, they find alternative routes into the walls of your house. As you can imagine, water dripping down the inside of your walls can quickly lead to expensive unwanted repairs.

How do I know if my House is at Risk?

Now, this isn’t 100% fool proof. We can’t control Mother Nature. However, we can do these few things to better equip your home before something like this starts.

  1. The name of the game for preventing ice dams is proper ventilation. Soffit vents under the eaves of your roof keep air flowing through your attic. Soffit vents should always be clear and unobstructed, especially during winter.
  2. The problem with snow melting from the heat within the house is that the snow melts from below. In order to make sure it doesn’t, let your roof get plenty of sunlight. This helps the snow melt naturally from top to bottom, not bottom to top. To get more sunlight, have a professional remove the limbs and branches that are preventing the sun from hitting your roof.
  3. Make sure you properly seal common places where warm air escapes. This means having the right insulation for attic hatches, vent pipes, and exhaust fans.
  4. Make sure your attic is insulated properly. This will prevent the snow from excessively melting on your roof. A good rule of thumb is to keep your attic cool – about 10 degrees colder than the outside air.

How can I prevent ice dams?

Even if you have proper ventilation there are a few products that you can use to help prevent ice dams.

  1. As the snow falls, remove the snow from 3 feet back from the edge of the roof. We don’t recommend doing this while standing on the roof because it’s too dangerous getting close to the edge. Do your best to remove your roof’s snow from the ground using an elongated tool. Make sure to use specific snow removal tools because you don’t want to ruin your roof’s shingles.
  2. You can install heated cables into the eaves if your roof. However, have a professional do this because you don’t want to intensify the rate at which the ice melts.
  3. A good option is installing snow and ice slides during the off-season. These slides are placed on top of your shingles and prevent ice from coming in contact with your roof, gutters, and eaves.

As you can see, ice dams are not fun. Taking the right precautions will possibly help save your house from further damage. Finally, if you do see ice dams forming, please contact your local professional to have them remove the snow and ice for you.

What Is an Umbrella Policy and Why Do You Need One?

Umbrella Policy
Take a second and imagine that you’re 61-years old. Imagine that you’re well-seasoned in your career, just a few years away from retirement, and have a healthy portfolio of assets. You have two homes – one permanent and one vacation – and a car that is all fully paid off.

Suddenly, as you’re driving up to your vacation home, you, unfortunately, get into an accident. Luckily, you’re not hurt too bad and insurance will cover the damage to your car and any medical bills that you incur. However, the car you hit and the people in it were not as lucky. Everyone is okay, but there is damage and injuries to the people in the other car.

The judge concludes that you are liable for the accident, responsible for the damage to the car, for the medical bills, for the lost wages, and additional money for their pain and suffering.  Your auto policy covers much of the costs, but the total amount could exceed what your auto policy covers and is close to your entire retirement savings.

Not good.

This seems like a disaster, right?

Unless you have an umbrella policy, this disaster could, in fact, be a disaster. Yet, with an umbrella policy, most of this can be avoided. Umbrella policies take over when your other policies run up against their coverage limits – in this case, saving most of your retirement account from this ill-fated accident.

How Umbrella Insurance Works

Typically, insurance policies render one distinct coverage for one specific thing. For example, your homeowner’s insurance covers your home and everything in it.  On the other hand, an umbrella policy includes most every corner of your financial life. An umbrella policy covers:

  • Bodily Injury
  • Legal Fees
  • Legal Damages
  • Property Damage

So this means that whenever you approach your liability limit, your umbrella policy is right there to help counteract the additional expenses – saving you, your retirement account, and your peace of mind.

Give us a call today to learn how you can set up your umbrella insurance.

Why You Should Know What “Coverage Gaps” Are

Surprises are a part of life.

Month in and month out, we confront new obstacles, and no matter the size, these obstacles can be surprising and sometimes undesirable.

In the insurance world, these “undesirable surprises” are called “gaps” and they’re never enjoyable. However, if you know these policy gaps it can lessen the impact of their severity if they ever occur.

Coverage Gap: A coverage gap is an area or type of risk that an insurance policy does not cover.

How to Avoid Coverage Gaps

No matter what, coverage gaps will always continue because there is no such thing as an insurance policy that doesn’t have gaps. To learn a little more about these gaps, here are two seasonal scenarios where coverage gaps may occur:

The Roaring River

You live next to a beautiful stream that gently flows close to your backyard. It’s never been a problem until now. One weekend, after an ominous forecast by your local weather station, torrential rains came down and that quiet stream turned into a roaring river. Your backyard is now gone and your basement is under four feet of water.

Flooding is not covered by your homeowner’s policy. In order to be covered, You’ll need to obtain a separate flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurer. This is a gap people sometimes face. Give us a call if you have questions about your homeowner’s policy and we’ll gladly go over it.

The Summertime thief

During the summer months, you decide that it’s okay to leave your windows open while you head out to your job. As you get home, your screen is broken and you realize that some of your belongings are gone. A burglar has broken in.

Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

Here’s where coverage gaps come into play. You have personal property coverage on your homeowners/renters policy, and your policy covers $1,000 toward jewelry in a single incident. Unfortunately,  the burglar walked away with $5,000. You’re out $4,000. There’s the gap.

In order to lessen the gap, you can “schedule” these expensive jewels. Don’t know what “scheduling” is? To learn more about scheduling, give us a call and we’ll gladly make sure your belongings are covered.

Want to learn more? Give us a call.

It’s important to understand your policy and address any coverage gaps that seem particularly concerning. That’s why we’re here to help.

2017 Resolutions: Safer Credit Card Practices

Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana Insurance - Safe Credit Card Practices

Cue the whistles and bells. It’s the New Year! Have you made your resolutions yet? If so (or not) It’s important to know that worldwide fraud losses on credit, debit and prepaid cards in 2014 topped $16 billion, according to the Nilson Report, a trade publication for the global credit-card and mobile-payment industry. Thus, we urge you to put safer credit card use on your list.

Here are a few tips:

  • Try to practice the one card philosophy. This means using one card that isn’t shared between family members.
  • Use your judgment and refrain giving your card to anyone who you feel isn’t trustworthy. Even the slightest amount of doubt is worthy of questioning who you’re talking to. If you’re providing your card information online, make sure the website is secure by having the green lock in the URL.
  • A lot of people simply toss their receipts and statements. Please do NOT do this in 2017, and every year proceeding. Instead of tossing, shred them – even if they don’t list your full account number.
  • Check your statement every month. Instead of looking at the sum and saying, “That looks accurate,” do a full scan on your statement and be aware of anything that looks off. Also, draw a line through any blank spaces in your receipts above the total before you sign, and always review the charges.
  • Finally, always remember if something seems funny, or weird just walk away from the situation. It’s your year this year. Make it safe and make it great.

As always, we’re here to answer any insurance questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us.

How to Stay Safe on New Year’s Eve

2017 is right around the corner and whether 2016 was the best or worst year, everyone always loves sending it off with a bang on new years eve. To make sure your New Year’s Eve is fun and safe, here are a few safety tips to ensure you start 2017 off right.

Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana New Year's Eve Safety Tips

Plan your Transportation

Don’t drink and drive. In fact, let’s rephrase that – NEVER drink and drive. Unless you’re hosting a party at your house, you’ll most likely be spending New Year’s Eve with friends and family that is a drive away, either at their house or at a bar. Plan to have a designated driver, call an Uber/cab, or crash on your friend’s couch. The surge pricing of an Uber or the restless night of sleep on a couch is far better than a DUI, or worse an accident.

There is no excuse for drinking and driving, so make sure your transportation is scheduled and taken care of before you clank your glass in celebration.

Safety in Numbers

It’s always better traveling with the ones you love, so make sure you’re never traveling alone on New Year’s Eve. A good portion of the population will be drinking that night, which by default will make traveling a little more dangerous. So always make sure you know where you’re going, and let people know so they can expect you. And above anything else, if you ever feel that you’re in an area (street or bar) that isn’t safe, simply leave with your friends.

Eat Your Dinner

Make sure that before you head out, you’re leaving with a full stomach. It’s the end of the year, so why not celebrate with your friends and family by eating a nice meal. Eating before drinking is always a good idea. It will help soak up the alcohol and keep you from snacking on the apps and candy at your friend’s party.

Communication is Key

Communication is everything and everything is communication. Make sure everyone in your party knows what you’re doing at all times. If you need to leave, let them know. If you’re heading to another party, let those people know that you’re on your way. Keeping them in the loop is just the kind thing to do on New Year’s Eve.

Have Fun

Finally, remember to have fun. Whether you’re standing in Times Square watching the ball drop, at a bar, with friends and family, or hanging in, say thank you for all the wonderful things that happened in 2016, and get ready to make 2017 a year full of love and happy memories.

12 Must-Have Items for Your Winter Storm Emergency Kit

While the cold weather has suggested that winter has been here for a while, the season officially began Wednesday.

Ready or not, the first day of winter is here. While many people are hustling and bustling to get those last minute gifts, here is a friendly safety reminder of the practical items you should have in your winter storm emergency kit.

What to Include in Your Winter Storm Emergency Kit - Chase Clarke Stewart & Fontana

Winter Storm Emergency Kit

  • First aid kit, including over-the-counter painkillers, rubbing alcohol, eye wash kit, and vomit-inducing medicine
  • Rock salt or ice melt, sand, and snow shovels
  • Water and nonperishable food (for three days)
  • Emergency lighting and flashlights with extra batteries
  • Whistles to signal and direct attention during and after the storm
  • Battery or crank-powered radio
  • Walkie-talkies and/or cellular phones (with spare chargers and  portable batteries)
  • Batteries
  • Blankets and extra clothing
  • Hand and power tools
  • Portable pumps and hoses
  • Plastic covers and tarpaulins

With these items stored away, you should have an extensive and well-put-together emergency kit to combat any winter storm that decides to swing by.

On behalf of everyone here at Chase Clarke Stewart & Fontana, we would like to wish you a festive holiday season and a happy, healthy new year!